Birthday Thoughts…

It’s my birthday.

I have never really liked celebrating the process of aging, but over the past couple of years I have come to realize that it can be a time of learning and growth.  It has become a time for me to reflect on what has been important to me over the year and focus on some of the things that God has taught me.

So here it goes.  Here are three things that God has really imparted to me this past year:

  1. Dependence on Him.

Don’t get me wrong, I have known for a long time that I need to depend on God, but the last year has taught me just how much I was depending on myself – and it was way to much.  If I take one of my life verses seriously (I talk about this verse, Philippians 1:6 here: When I Feel Lost and Hopeless) my confidence in God’s work needs to be evidenced through my dependence on him.

I need to be in the unapologetically in God’s word and in prayer.  My strength comes from him, my wisdom comes from him and I need to be reminded of this constantly.

    2.  Do Life with Others.

It can be really easy to do life alone.  With all the technology at our fingertips and in our pockets our need for others to be around is at an all time low.  In fact I can order food online so I don’t have to leave the house or pay my bills online so I don’t have to talk with anyone on the phone or visit a bank.  When it comes to marriage or parenting, I could easily be present but not available as I sit on my phone in cyberspace.

This year it has been made more evident to me than any other year that I need to do life together with other people.  I need my wife, family and friends.  God designed us to be in community, to live life with others and enjoy companionship.  I need to put down the smart phone and be present with the people that God has put in my life to develop, enjoy and live life with.

3.  Take Care of Yourself.

Wow!  This one has been a hard one to begin learning.  After day surgery in March I found myself struggling to do the things I normally would have done easily a few years ago.  I realized that I am not 18 anymore (I know I still look it but it just isn’t the case).  My body can’t handle the punishment that I put it through with lack of sleep and poor eating habits.

Proper fruits and veggies and exercise, sleep and rest are all important things that I have had to really begin to put in place.  These are necessary so that I can work better, play harder and be available for my family.

Every year I realize that I have begun learning new things.  It means I’m not an old dog, and I hope I never get to the point where I can’t learn new tricks.

What new things are you learning?

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Keep it Simple

I have never experienced life without a television in the house.  For good or for bad my home has always had one.
We knowing that learning happens through the television screen, but I don’t think that people thought about serious life lessons being taught through the screen when I was growing up.
One of those life lessons that I wrongly learned through the television screen was that process wasn’t important.  If you look at any major television show, characters move from one scene to another quickly.  You often do not see all the time in between major events or activities.  I learned quickly as I watched these television shows that learning and development wasn’t necessary and process wasn’t important; things should just happen.
I have seen the same life lesson beginning to be taught to my sons who see P.K. Suburban, Carey Price, and Sidney Crosby take to the ice on Saturday nights.  They fly down the ice, shooting and scoring, and making saves with reflexes like a cat with my sons thinking that they can be in the NHL without any real hard work.  My boys see the end result of years of hard work, practicing constantly and training without pause.  On my sons practice nights I hear, “we don’t need to practice I just want to play.”
I have to remind my boys that it is through the process of practice that a person grows in their strengths and abilities.
As I have grown up I have had to relearn (slowly) that process is an essential aspect of life and the most important part of growth and development.  The idea that I will just be disciplined, that I will get rich quick, that I can have the career or pay check that I want instantly is simply not reality.  No one wakes up one morning and finds themselves disciplined or rich or living the life they always dreamed of without first putting in the effort.
If this is true about life in general then I wonder why we think it will happen in our spiritual lives.  Why do we think that because we have decided to be spiritually mature we can wake up one morning and be just that?
Just like everything else spiritual maturity is a mark of a disciplined life.   A solid committed relationship with Jesus takes time and consistent day to day work.  It’s process.
Jesus gives us simple instructions when it comes to following him if we want a real committed relationsip.  He says, “if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).  This short statement has so much infused in it about what discipleship means, what it really takes to be a disciple of Jesus.   But the one component that I have stressed over and over again to myself and now to my sons is that this committed relationship with Jesus is process.  It takes time.  It takes a daily refocusing and recommitment to the work of disciplining ourselves to grow in our relationship with Jesus.
Our relationship with Jesus doesn’t just happen like relationships on television.  Discipline and commitment are not easy realities we just choose like the push of a remote button.  I know that I have been learning this over the past few years, to just keep it simple.
Focus daily on simple yet difficult discipleship.

Because He Loved me First

What came first, the chicken or the egg?

A silly question I know, but one that helps us understand this incredible thing called love.

Love is this absolutely wonderful and hard thing that we chase after, long for and attempt to give others.  For some it’s a feeling, for others it’s a decision, many are sure that it must be both.  What most struggle with, if they are eager to really think about it, is the question of where love comes from.  Love is so much more than physical attraction and it is more than just a decision.  Love is this incredible gift and it’s one we receive from God.

The love that God has for us is astounding.  He loves us in our brokenness, emptiness, lostness.  He loves us in our most joy filled moments and most painful.  His love carries s through the darkest and most difficult days and it is his love that rejoices in our greatest triumphs and victories.

God’s love envelops us and at the same time sets us free.

God’s love brings hope and peace.  It changes the way that we see our past, our present and our future.

It is because of God’s love that I still believe, that I still journey with Jesus.  It is the reason why I keep walking.

Just like the silly chicken certainly came before the egg, God and his love came before anything and everything.  God loved first.

He didn’t love me first because of my successes and victories in life.  He didn’t love first because of my future prospects and what I would do with my life when I “arrived”.  God didn’t love me first because of me.

God loved me first in spite of me for his glory.

Paul tells us in Romans 5 that “at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrated his own love for us in this:  while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

While we were still in our hurt and pain, brokenness and decay, God loved us to such an extent that he took on the very punishment that was owed to us.  What love.  Yes, I still believe, I still journey with Jesus who took on the very brutal consequence of my sin.

It is this unfathomable love – this unconditional love that holds me fast to God, that keeps me focused and stills my heart and soul.  It is a real love, a love that is patient and kind, protecting and hopeful.  The love of God that I know is not built on pride or selfishness.  It never fails when things become hard.  What I have experienced in the past 25 years of being loved by God is that this incredible love perseveres and never ends.

Because he loved first I can love.  Because he loved first I can hope.

Why I Keep Walking

I have been journeying with Jesus for almost 25 years.  I still can’t believe that it has been so long.  Not because I didn’t expect Jesus to keep loving me, although that is amazing too, but because I can’t believe that I am that much older.  It’s hard to believe that it has been more than two decades since Jesus broke down the walls of sin and set me free my life of servitude to it.

When I talk to people about faith and life with Jesus the question that repeats so often is why.  Why do you keep believing?  After everything that I have seen, after all that I have endured or bore witness to, why do I still believe?

It’s a valid question.  It’s reasonable to ask it in a day in age when loyalty to anything is seen as weak, foolish or an insatiable desire for comfort.

Let me tell you, 25 years of walking with Jesus on this journey of life is far from weakness, I have never been stronger because he is my strength.  This journey is far from foolish, I cannot tell you how much my life makes more sense because of Jesus.  And seriously, the life of a Jesus follower is far from comfortable.

I keep walking with Jesus because he keeps his promises.

Among a myriad of other reasons which I will talk about in future posts, a God who keeps his promises is a God that I can trust.  Unlike so many people that have surrounded me, I can be sure that Jesus will never go anywhere and will always do as he says he will do.

Over 25 years he has kept the promise he gave to Joshua in chapter 1 which is an echo of the promise of Deuteronomy 31:

“. . . I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. . . Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  (Joshua 1: 5b, 9)

God promised Joshua as he had promised Moses (Exodus 3-4) that he would be with him. Just as God was with Moses, so he was with Joshua, so he has been with everyone that acts justly, loves mercy and walks humbly with him.  I have striven to be the man that God calls me to be because of his great love and he has never left me nor forsaken me.

I still make mistakes.  But in his love my heavenly Father searches me out, finds me under my bed and reaches out to care for me in my hurt and tears.

I still stumble and fall.  But by his grace, he picks me up and compassionately mends my brokenness, brushes me off and we keep on going.

I still believe, I still walk with Jesus because he keeps his promises, time after time.   I faithfully believe that he will forever.  I can trust this because he has proven it in the darkness and hurt as he has in the good days and amazing times.

God keeps his promises.

When I Feel Lost and Hopeless

Have you ever felt lost?  Ever felt convinced that nothing will work out and the word hope is a reminder of everything that has gone wrong in your life?

I have been there.  Sometimes it feels like I have been there too often throughout my life.

These days of lostness and hopelessness dilute my joy and usually bring to me tears.

Here are three things that I do:

I pray.  I don’t ask God to fix me or my situation.  I know that if I pray that way and things don’t change on a dime it will be easy for me to convince myself that God is at fault when in reality God is carrying me through it.

I pray to find peace with where God has me, where he has placed me.  I ask for help as I change my will to coincide with God’s

I pray to find space with God.  To just rest in moments when I know the creator of the universe and my saviour is guiding me to calm and quiet spaces.  There are many times when being with him is the only place I feel comfort and rest.  There is little doubt that is why I keep coming back to him.

I wrestle.  I take moments to deal with my insecurities and hurt and wrestle them with scripture.  I go to texts that remind me of God’s provision and grace and his long term care for me.  There are two texts that I was encouraged with at my baptism that I have held on to:

Isaiah 40:30-31

Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.  

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

Philippians 1:6

…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  

These two passages remind me among other things that my strength comes from the Lord and when I hope in him he continues to work in me regardless of my faults.  These two things bring me hope and joy.  More than anything, when I wrestle with the word of God it reminds me that I am not alone.

I talk to others.  This is the hardest thing for me to do.  I want to help others not be helped but I need to tell myself (that’s right – self talk) that I can talk to other human beings and get the help that I love to give to others.  I talk to my family and my friends.

The Christian faith is not meant to be lived in isolation.  This means in the good times and the hard ones too.  Years ago God brought me to the realization that I was not a rock or an island as Simon and Garfunkel sung, I am part of a community.  Part of being in community is talking and listening.  The Jesus community needs to be and is a safe place for me to live out life in my joys and in my struggles.

If you are reading this and feeling lost, scared, broken and/or hopeless it’s okay to not be okay.  There is a God that loves you and there are people that want to listen and help.  Reach out and know that you are not alone in your journey.

What are your suggestions that have helped you through times of lostness or hopelessness?

A Rainbow’s Beginning

It amazes me how the seasons pass, how time moves so very quickly.  I looked out the window just a week ago and saw a flood of rain coming down…so much rain.  It felt as though it was just snowing.  Now I tend the garden again, planting seeds, seeing them grow into bean, zucchini and tomato plants.  The heat is upon us once more.

In the heat of the evening, a rainbow began to emerge.  It began creeping up into the sky and became brilliant as people walked out of their homes and looked, stared for a moment in disbelief at something so beautiful and excellent.  Then the cameras and cell phones came out, taking pictures and videos to remember the moment.  It was for some, the moment when the greatest rainbow they had ever seen appeared over them.

For many it was nothing more than a beautiful sight, colour in the sky.  For others it was the refracting, bending and reflecting of slowed white light.

I saw a promise kept.  I was reminded that God is a promise-keeping God.  I was reminded that God loves me and cares enough for me that he put this beautiful example of His grace in the sky.

There is another promise that I am passionately looking forward to seeing fulfilled.  It is a promise that Jesus made that my heart aches for.  I long for Jesus’ return.  He tells us that He will return for us, His angels told the disciples that He would return the same way he left and I am on the edge of my seat waiting.

I am so often torn between now and then.  Between the present and the perfect.  I desire so badly to see Jesus face to face.  I don’t know if you feel the same way, if you yearn from the pit of your being to see the one that created you and saved you.  I do.  Some days it is a tolerable yearning, a tolerant waiting.

Today it is not.  Today I want Him to come.

I don’t want Him to come because I want this rollercoaster of a life to end, because my day hasn’t started well, or even because I worry about life.  I want Him to come to be nearer to Him.  You know the feeling of being away from the person that you love, you talk on the phone and you just want to reach out and feel their touch.  It is that feeling of true togetherness that you miss.

I read the gospels and see Jesus interacting with His disciples, teaching them and encouraging them, rebuking them, weeping and laughing with them and I can only imagine what it was like to journey with Him.  How his disciples must have ached for His return even more than I do now.  Paul tells the Philippians that he desired to depart and be with Christ.  He believed that being with Christ was better by far.  Paul wrote of his conviction to be with God’s people in body but longed for complete union with Jesus, even in death.  His love and desire to be with Jesus was that great.  The longing for Jesus was that strong.

I see a rainbow and I remember the promise that God made never to flood the whole earth and destroy all living things.  But it also reminds me of another promise yet to be fulfilled – Jesus’ return.  How I long for the day that I stand with Jesus, walk with Jesus and commune in perfect peace with Jesus.

Do you yearn for His return?

 

 

 

 

 

Leadership Lesson on my Birthday

Yes it’s my birthday today.  a number of years ago today my parents were extraordinarily blessed with the incredible gift of my presence ;).

In the life of a normal person on the day of their birth they may decide to do something exciting or different, something out of the norm.  For me, the most exciting thing to do is what I am endeavour to do everyday, spend time with God in His word.

It would also be normative to read something pleasant when one celebrates a birthday.  For me, pleasant looks like the story of Samson in my reading program.

I suppose it serves me right for being behind in my commitment to read the bible in a year.  If I were more consistent I would have been in Romans 14-15 this morning.  It’s the most basic fundamental reality: when we follow through with our commitments and responsibilities we end up where we need to be.  But when we aren’t consistent and focused on the direction that God has for us we end up following our own desires and that always leads to trouble.

For Samson it’s clear that his commitments and responsibilities to lead well were not his focus.  Instead his leadership was marked by vengeful, brutal, and sinful acts.  God still used him, but I have to wonder, just as I wonder where I would be in my scripture reading today, where God could have taken him and the nation of Israel had he committed himself to his calling as a leader of God’s people.

In Samson’s time as leader among his people he never led them to God nor do you see him worship or direct glory to God.  In every instance God worked through Samson in spite of his self-centred and sinful behaviour.  How could God have been glorified and His people blessed had their leader been godly, had their leader been focused on his responsibilities rather than his vengeance and carnal desires.

As I reflect on my life and leadership today, yes on my birthday I tend to do that more than other days; there are three basic things that I want identified as instrumental to my journey of leadership:

  1. Prayer.  I want to be man dedicated to being in the presence of God all the time.  A picture of 1 Thessalonians 5:17 hangs on my wall at home: Pray without Ceasing!  I want to set the example as a leader in my home and church to be people of prayer.  We cannot be in relationship with God if we are not in communication with Him.
  2. Scripture:  I desire to be a man of The Book.  It is the revelation of God given to us to illuminate Him, to point to Jesus and help us to live lives dedicated to His glory.  I want it be the most instrumental living, breathing book that captivates my life and leadership and guides me in my decisions and commitments.
  3. Relationships:  What good am I to others or to God if my talents and gifts are used for only my selfish desires and my time is taken up being driven from relationships rather than toward them.  I want my life to be identified as relational.  I want people to know that I deeply care for them, that I love them.

There is no end to the struggles that we have with these three basic identifiers.  That is certainly evident in the life of Samson because these three things aren’t part of his story at all.  It is also true of me.  These are things that I struggle to build into my life and I have to work on them.

Prayer doesn’t come easy to most and neither does scripture reading.  Both take commitment and discipline.  They require our passions and force of will.

Relationships seem at first glance to be something that everyone is good at but as experience has taught me, my first impression is seldom a perspective of truth.  I struggle to show love and express care to those around me and I know others do too.  Relationship is hard because we are so desperate to find self-satisfaction and joy when in reality we find both of those in service and care of others.

Ah, birthday thoughts.

What are things that you want your leadership and life to be identified with?